Was it as rosy and as simple as it looks in the movies and the history books?
If you think that Omaha Beach was the hardest part of the Normandy Invasion in 1944, guess again.
By June 1944, Italy had officially surrendered (sort of), the allies had pushed Japan back in the Pacific as far as the Mariana Islands, and everything looked absolutely rosy for the anti-Axis alliance.
While Russia had pushed the Germans out of most of Russia, her calls for a Second Front were becoming more strident. Not because the Italian/Mediterranean operations were a "second front," but because western capitals—and Moscow—perceived Russia was running out of both steam and manpower. Three years of ground warfare had taken its toll. The Soviets were engaging 80% of the German Army and as much as 2/3rds of the German Air Force, despite the Allied air offensive. While Stalin appreciated the British and American efforts at sea and in the air, his country was suffering all out of proportion to their allies. Some people whispered about a possible separate peace with Germany, or at least a tacit one, that would take the pressure off of Russia’s manpower pool and allow Germany to shift forces to oppose the allies’s ground war in Italy.
But the Anglo/Americans had this invasion planned...
The Soviets were aware of the planning for the Normandy invasion in broad terms officially, and in some detail clandestinely. As for the latter, they were aware of the huge deception operation that covered the OVERLORD landings, code named FORTITUDE. They noticed it because Soviet agents reported everything regardless of what their paranoid masters believed. The Soviets, dominated by secretive Russian culture, did not think that the Americans and British would be so foolish as to invade at Normandy, while leaving their best commander, George Patton, on the shelf. They were certain that FORTITUDE was pointing at the correct target: the Pas de Calais. It was never quite clear if the allies meant FORTITUDE for just the Germans or at the Soviets as well.
The Normandy invasion was a better kept secret than the Manhattan Project, as far as the Soviets were concerned.
It was also much larger than some people believed was necessary, or that it was necessary at all. HH Arnold, commanding general of the US Army Air Forces, never believed that the Anglo-Americans needed land campaigns in Europe, period. His outspoken opposition to all the amphibious planning in Europe left him out of the loop most of the time; they got him kicked out of the planning sessions for the Italian operations. More than once he complained to George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff and his ostensible equal, that he could put another 500-1,000 bombers over Germany if he would just scrap these "wasteful" amphibious invasion plans. That he and his British counterparts could not get even Italy to the negotiating table without a land invasion—Sicily—didn't seem to phase him. That the German’s Blitz of England in 1940-41 failed to even dent British morale didn't impress the air power enthusiasts. Arnold, like many other air advocates, didn't like to recall that they needed bases from which to operate that had to be secured with land forces. Arnold went to his grave with the same view: air power alone could win wars.
That soldiers and Marines were going to die in the Mariana Islands for his B-29 bases didn't seem to register, either.
At the same time as the OVERLORD operation was being planned and built-up for, the somewhat larger US Army presence in the Pacific was, while not forgotten, was often overlooked. The Marine Corps, honestly, had better public relations. Their gallant and desperate fighting at the beginning of the Guadalcanal campaign (August-December 42) took headlines, while the Army's relief and final clearing of the island got short shrift. Besides, the Army's bigger headlines were being made in North Africa, whereas Douglas MacArthur's New Guinea campaign...not so much. The Marine’s epic fight for the Tarawa atoll (November 43) shocked the public and forever stole MacArthur’s thunder. But it was Europe that the allied planners had decided was more important, not long after MacArthur left the caves of Corregidor in 1942. The irony of this was that Dwight Eisenhower was tapped to command the cross-channel invasion. MacArthur once referred to Eisenhower as “the best clerk-typist the Army ever had.”
How it must have rankled MacArthur to learn who would command the largest amphibious invasion ever attempted.
When the Normandy invasion was announced to the world on 6 June 1944, Hitler was still convinced that the Pas de Calais was the "real" invasion site, and that the 160,000-odd troops were a mere diversion. This was German policy for another critical two weeks. The Germans, after over two million British, French, Canadian and American troops landed, acknowledged that Normandy was indeed the main landing in late June (Hitler stuck to his guns a bit longer). But by then it was too late to eject their enemies. When the allies did land on the French Riviera on 15 August, they were too distracted by the allied breakout from the bocage country of Normandy and their hammering by the Soviets in Poland, and disorganized by years of attrition and battered by allied fighter-bombers to be surprised.
The time for surprise was over. The time for consolidation was at hand.
The invasion mildly surprised the Soviets. They had a better idea of how many ships and especially landing craft the Anglo/Americans had available in Europe than the Germans did. They were also aware of the disagreements over ANVIL-DRAGOON, the invasion of southern France that was supposed to be simultaneous with the OVERLORD landings. This plan puzzled Soviet naval analysts.
The war in Europe wasn't over with the Normandy landings, yet the shouting began before they started.
While no one disputes the invasion itself, Bernard Montgomery always disputed the broad front approach. He wanted to shoot straight for the Rhine, avoiding dispersing fighting power by diversions to Paris.
But that's a discussion for another time.
Any thoughts on this retrospective? Start a discussion here…
The Ebb and Flow of History
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On 11 June in…
1508: Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon at Westminster Abbey. The first of his six wives, his union with Kate was also the longest, spanning 23 years. Given his luck with his subsequent paramours, he should have stayed with Kate.
1880: Jenette Rankin was born in Missoula, Montana. Congresswoman Rankin is best known for two things: she was the first woman elected to the US Congress by popular vote, and she cast the only "no” votes for US declarations of war in both 1917 and 1941.
And 11 June is NATIONAL GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE DAY in the US. Not sure why, but as most everyone knows, there’s nothing “German” about German chocolate cake except the name of the originator of the dark chocolate Samuel German developed in 1852 that was popularized by the confection.
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